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Growing Latino population looking for representation and respect in Boone County government

Belvidere
Maria Gardner Lara
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The Latino population in Boone County continues to grow, but some residents say representation in local government is lacking. The Boone County Board has only one Latino Board member – Freddy De La Trinidad.

He was appointed in 2021 and is running in the November election for one of four seats representing the third district in Boone County.

De La Trinidad said his experience hasn’t been easy.

“When you're the first Hispanic, on any kind of thing locally, you're the change,' he said. "But the change can be ugly, right?”

De la Trinidad navigates what seems like two different worlds— a historically white population and a growing Latino community.

“Now that I'm there, it's kind of a little shocker," he said. "It's a different perspective [and] a different viewpoint that [the board] is not used to."

While De La Trinidad is new to the board, the Latino presence in the county isn’t. In 2000, it was estimated that Hispanics made up over 12 percent of the county’s total population. In the last census, that percentage nearly doubled. In Belvidere, Latinos make up 37% of the population.

“I always kind of tell people that a lot of our immigrant population has really contributed a whole lot to the county in the past 20 years,” De La Trinidad said.

A drive down State Street in Belvidere and the boom of Latino businesses is evident. But obstacles exist. He said on the board, he's felt a ‘stick to your own’ or ‘stick to your roots’ mentality, leaving out the Latino experience.

He cites business permit applicants from Latinos being treated differently from white applicants. He recalled a vote for a Latino business applicant who was denied a permit last year.

“I was the only one that voted for that family to have their banquet hall out of the 12 county board members,“ he said. “And when I said that, and I told them that this was racially motivated, a lot of the people there were shocked that I even said that.”

This spring, the board put a moratorium on rodeo permits to investigate complaints made against the organizers.

De La Trinidad said over 25 years, several Mexican families host these sporting events that attract people throughout the Midwest. He says the events bring tourism and dollars to the county.

The shows draw on rodeo traditions from Zacatecas and Durango, Mexico, where riders display their skills and cultural pride. The event also host bands playing Banda music, popular in the region.

After a two-month hiatus, the committee concluded that rodeo organizers were not in violation of any regulations, but they still reduced the number of events each family could host from six to four.

Some of the complaints were about music, traffic, and the treatment of the rodeo animals, a common complaint for all rodeos.

When residents spoke during public comments at the board meetings negatively about the people attending the events that alarmed many in the Latino community.

Eddy Batres is a member of the Latino Business Committee of Boone County.

“We were able to hear their derogatory words such as 'drunks,' 'dirty people,' and 'crazy drunks,'" he said. "Just terms that they shouldn't exist among people when we're trying to identify a segment of the population.”

For Ivan Silva, a rodeo promoter, it was the board’s silence during some of the worst comments that surprised him the most.

“They let [a member of the public] make that comment, ‘You know, if you want to practice your culture, go back to your country,” he said. “Everybody was just in shock. But nobody said, ‘Hey, you're not allowed here anymore. Don't say that here.'”

WNIJ reached out to the Boone County chair Karl Johnson for comment but did not receive any response.

Batres said De La Trinidad works hard to advocate and defend the community on the board, but more representation is needed.

“Since we are a presence and pay taxes, we believe that it is important for us to start taking local responsibility,” Batres said. He said Latino families get left out of park district offerings and programs for the elderly like bus services. He says more Hispanic representation would help to ensure the community is regarded and respected.

Third District Race

In addition to De La Trinidad, third district voters will find another Latino candidate, Juan M. Hernandez. The local Democratic party chose him to take the place of Cherie Bartelt who retired over the summer. Like De La Trinidad, he’s running as a Democrat.

Also running in the third district are Republicans Sherry Branson, Rodney Riley, Marion Thornberry and Dana Logsdon. According to the Boone County Republican Club, they are running on a shared platform of "public safety, no new taxes, protecting farmland, and supporting working families."

Voters will choose up to four candidates to represent the district.

De La Trinidad joins several Latinos who are running this November in northern Illinois.

Republican Jonathan Ojeda is vying to represent the growing Latino population in a state district that includes Boone County. He faces incumbent Democrat Dave Vella.

In Illinois' recently redrawn 34th District, Republican Juan Reyes entered the race to face incumbent Steve Stadelman.

This story is part of WNIJ Hola's ongoing coverage on how the growing Latino community in northern Illinois is shaping the region

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.
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